BRADFORD’S junior dance troupe, the Sunbeams, were introduced as “a ray of light in the darkness of war”.

Theatre impresario Francis Laidler introduced the first Sunbeams in Robin Hood in 1917 at the Prince’s Theatre in Little Horton Lane. In 1930 the Sunbeams came to the Alhambra, and have been there ever since. The girls, with matching bobbed haircuts, were a hit with audiences from the start, and remain an integral part of the Alhambra panto.

Our recent picture spread of Sunbeams prompted some lovely comments, many of them on the T&A’s We Grew Up in Bradford Facebook page. Readers have been sharing cherished memories of their time as Alhambra Sunbeams over the years. Here are some of them:

Gillian Robinson of Denholme was a Sunbeam in 1980/81 panto Jack and the Beanstalk with Cannon and Ball, comic Norman Collier and singers Susan Maughan and Beverley Andrews. “It was the most amazing opportunity!” she says. “I loved every performance. I went on to be a professional dancer, a Redcoat entertainer and now run my own dance School in Bradford, Spotlight Stage School. Being a Sunbeam totally inspired me to make a career of performing, choreographing and teaching.”

Susan Oliver of Guiseley was a Sunbeam in Babes in the Wood with comedy double act Mike and Bernie Winters. “I have wonderful memories of my time as a Sunbeam, I was lucky enough to appear in the pantos of 1966, 67 and 68,” says Susan. “All us Sunbeams got on well together, we used to go to the ice rink on Saturday mornings, before the matinee. I gained a lot of confidence from my experience as a Sunbeam, it equipped me well for life.”

Today’s Alhambra panto wouldn’t be complete without Billy Pearce, who has worked with hundreds of Sunbeams over the years. Josie Lamb of Bingley was one, in 2004 panto Cinderella. “I have the best memories!” she says. “Performing at a young age on the magical Alhambra stage was a highlight of my childhood. I’ll never forget it.”

Enya Graham of Bingley danced with Billy in 2016, 2017 and 2018 pantos Jack and the Beanstalk, Peter Pan and Cinderella. Other stars she appeared with were Benidorm actor Jack Caruso, Emmerdale’s Lisa Riley, singer Darren Day, H and Faye Tozer from Steps and Only Fools and Horses star John Challis. “Being a Sunbeam is an adventure, with fabulous costumes and fantastic people,” says Enya. “I had the most amazing three years as a Sunbeam before I got too tall, unfortunately.”

Linda Greco sent us a delightful photo of herself dressed as a toothbrush in a Sunbeams routine. Linda has cherished memories of 1964 panto Cinderella with comic Freddie Frinton. “It was the most exciting experience in my life, grease paint and all that,” she recalls. “I went on to be a dancer and studied at Braybrooks Academy. I still have my Sunbeam wage packets.”

Dianne Brewster of Queensbury was a Sunbeam in several pantos including 1959/60 show Jack and the Beanstalk - starring Ken Dodd, it was the Alhambra’s longest-running panto, lasting until Easter. “I loved every minute. We were treated very well and had ‘aunties’ to look after us. We had to be off stage and signed out by 9pm,” recalls Dianne. “It was a privilege to be selected. I really enjoyed the limelight.”

Beverley Preston was in Cinderella, Puss in Boots and Aladdin, 1971 to 1973: “I had a great time, it was lots of fun and a lovely group of girls.”

Carol Walker of Calverley was in Dick Whittington with singer Vince Hill and comic Don McLean. “The first night, Christmas Eve, was really lovely,” she recalls.

Audrey Reedman says: “My mum was a Sunbeam two years in a row in the early 1920s, they all had to be a standard height and had to have short fringed hair. She loved it and it got her into being a dance hostess later on at the Star Ballroom on Manningham Lane.”

Mike Smith says: “My gran, Phyllis Hooley, was a Sunbeam Auntie looking after the girls, I think in the 1940s.”

Barbara White now lives in New Zealand and has fond memories of being a Sunbeam in Mother Goose nearly 70 years ago.

“We queued around the block for auditions. There were strict height restrictions; you had to be between 4ft 4in and 4ft 6in. I only did it for one year because I grew,” says Barbara.”There are boy Sunbeams now. In my day Francis Laidler didn’t allow boys so for some routines we had to dress as boys.

Sunbeams were selected by Laidler at open auditions. “He ran a tight ship,” says Dorothy Ward, a Sunbeam in the 1950s. “There was no talking in the wings, and even those of us with long hair had to have it cut into a bob. I loved the costumes, being on that stage felt like a dream.”

As Francis Laidler might have said: once a Sunbeam, always a Sunbeam. It’s an experience that meant a great deal to those lucky enough to be chosen. And for some, the Alhambra remains in their blood.

Quips Sheila Metcalfe: “You will find a lot of us old Sunbeams now work at the Alhambra. We just couldn’t leave.”